4 March 2006

Uganda: Govt Still Discussing Mabira Forest Sale

Kampala — The government is still discussing whether to sell Mabira Forest to Mehta Group of Companies to allow the latter expand its sugarcane plantation.

Speaking to Daily Monitor on phone on March 1, the Minister of State for Environment, Lt. Gen. Jeje Odongo, said the issue has never been resolved.

"We met early this year with other stakeholders to discuss the proposed sale of Mabira Forest, but we will meet again soon to handle this issue of national development," he said, adding that as soon as the ministry accomplishes it's current engagements, the issue would be tabled.

The management of Mehta recently wrote to the government requesting to expand its sugarcane plantation into part of Mabira Central Forest Reserve where the government evicted encroachers in 1992.

Media reports quoted Ms Amelia Kyambadde, the Principal Presidential Secretary (PPS) claiming that the President is planning to meet with the ministers of Environment, Agriculture, Trade and Industry as well as Finance and Economic Development to make a final decision on Mehta Mahendra 's request.

The proposal has since generated negative response country wide, with a number of people claiming that Mabira is among the few remaining forests in the catchment areas of Lakes Victoria and Kyoga.

Mr John Tabula, the Executive Secretary of Collaborative Forest Management (CFM), said they would mobilise the locals to demonstrate against the move.

CFM is a Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) comprising members who reside in villages around the forest and are responsible for conserving it.

"We are stakeholders in this forest. If the government and Sugar Corporation of Uganda Limited (Scoul) take a decision without consulting us, we shall have no alternative but to respond by burning the planted sugarcanes. We overwhelmingly agreed on this and are ready to take any risk involved; be it death or imprisonment," he said.

"Article 15 of the National Forestry Act (NFA) empowers us (locals) surrounding the forest area to have a say in the management of the forest since it is us who can protect or destroy it," Tabula added.

According to former Buganda Kingdom Minister for Information, Mr Peter Mayiga, the loss arising from destruction of the forest is greater than the accruing benefit from the expanded sugarcane plantations.

"Government should go slow on this issue of giving away our reserved forest to investors. Although there is an urgent move to attract investors in the country, a number of considerations should be put in place. The costs could be higher than the investments in the case of giving away Mabira," he said.

Mayiga said Buganda Kingdom is opposed to the government's intention to please investors at the expense of public interest.

Kiyingia, the National Forest Authority communication Manager said although NFA is meant to implement government policies on natural forests and tree planting, it was ready to oppose the sale of Mabira Central Forest Reserve.

When contacted on phone for a comment, the Minister of Water, Lands and Environment, Maj. Gen. Kahinda Otafiire, also confirmed that there was no resolution on the sale of the forest.

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